Hagel committee vote Tuesday

Chuck Hagel’s troubled path to the head of the Defense Department will reach a critical hurdle Tuesday afternoon, as the Senate Armed Services Committee votes on his nomination for Secretary of Defense. Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to replace outgoing defense chief Leon Panetta, has run into stiff opposition from Senate Republicans over his views on Israel and Iran, as well as comments he has made about the size and efficiency of America’s defense budget.

But a crucial obstacle, the threat to filibuster Hagel’s nomination, seems to be crumbling. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday announced that he opposed a plan to filibuster Hagel’s nomination, arguing that the move would set a bad precedent and come back to bite Republican nominees in the future. “I’m encouraging my colleagues if they want to vote against Sen. Hagel that’s one thing and that’s a principled stand,” McCain said at a press gathering. “We do not want to filibuster. We have not filibustered a Cabinet appointee in the past and I believe that we should move forward with his nomination, bring it to the floor and vote up or down.”

At a Republican luncheon Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to determine whether GOP Senators have the votes and the will to filibuster Hagel’s nomination.

Although there has been much discussion of the “unprecedented” nature of an effort to filibuster a Cabinet appointment, the technique has been used in the past ??? usually without success. Several Bush and Obama administration appointments were held up briefly, and President George W. Bush’s nomination of John Bolton as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (a sometime Cabinet-level position) ended with Bolton withdrawing his nomination after Senate inaction.

Hagel’s case was not helped by his sluggish, halting, uncertain Senate testimony two weeks ago, and the recent release of two speeches he had not included on his Senate disclosure forms stirred more controversy.

But it’s not clear whether the Republicans will be able to maintain a filibuster even if they ignore McCain’s advice. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday said he plans to block both Hagel and CIA director nominee John Brennan over the administration’s reluctance to discuss last September’s lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. “No confirmation without information,” Graham announced. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) yesterday told Politico he plans to hold up the vote.